Blackhawks and Rangers, laden with connections, hoping for different realities come season’s final day
From Artemi Panarin to the Strome brothers to two-thirds of last year’s top draft picks, the Blackhawks and Rangers have plenty of shared storylines — and, in relation to the playoffs, share the same outlook.
Because of historic rivalries, the Blackhawks always will be linked with the Red Wings and Blues, and the team’s current core maintains plenty of shared animosity with the Canucks and Predators.
But right now, the Hawks might be most closely connected — largely in a friendly way — with the Rangers, even though the teams played for the first time all season on Wednesday and won’t meet again until the last day of the regular season.
Sure, there’s only one former Hawk on the Rangers, but he’s a notable one. Artemi Panarin, since signing a contract with New York last summer that made him the highest-paid player in the NHL, has emerged as a fringe MVP candidate with 78 points — 26 more than any of his teammates — entering Wednesday.
He and Patrick Kane squared off in a ceremonial pregame puck-drop honoring the 40th anniversary of the Miracle on Ice. Although the superstars hail from the opposing nations of the Cold War and are now three seasons removed from playing on the same line, they maintain a close friendship.
“[He’s] an amazing player, a player that you’d pay to watch play the game,” Kane said. “Still try to stay pretty close with him and stay in contact and just kind of catch up here and there throughout the season.”
Meanwhile in the stands, Trish Strome was surrounded by Rangers fans — she was on the Rangers’ moms trip, after all — but conflicted at heart, watching sons Dylan, 22, and Ryan, 26, play against each other.
Ryan Strome said that he and his brother “don’t really communicate at all” during the game, but the same cannot be said for before and after.
Dylan, being the host, picked up the check at dinner Tuesday night — even though his $832,500 base salary pales in comparison to Ryan’s $3.2 million. Ryan then doubled Dylan’s misery by scoring in the game.
“If you just look at how special it is in Chicago and the history, and the same with the Rangers, we’re pretty lucky to be in great organizations and get to play in front of very passionate fans,” Ryan Strome said. “Away from the rink, we try to help each other as much as possible.”
Even the Hawks’ star rookie, Kirby Dach, sports an interesting Rangers connection in Kaapo Kakko, who was picked one spot ahead of him in last June’s draft.
Earlier in the season, Dach admitted that he, Kakko and Jack Hughes (the Devils’ first overall selection) have a competition going this season. Entering Wednesday, the race was incredibly tight: Hughes led with 20 points, and Dach and Kakko were tied with 19.
Given all those connections, perhaps it’s only fitting the Hawks and Rangers entered the game in the same situation with regard to the playoffs: eight points behind their respective conference’s current cut-off line and with identical 16.2 percent playoff probabilities (according to MoneyPuck).
In both locker rooms, similar rhetoric floated around.
“There’s a lot of games left, and we have games in hand, but it doesn’t matter if we don’t . . . perform,” Hawks coach Jeremy Colliton said Tuesday.
“We’ve got to go on a little bit of a run here to make the playoffs, and we know that, and that’s a great challenge for us,” Ryan Strome said from the Rangers’ side.
Fittingly, if one or both teams successfully make runs, their fates could be decided during a season-ending April 4 matinee in Manhattan.
Kane, Panarin, Dach, Kakko and the Strome brothers would presumably be happiest if it turns out to be both.